Metal Max is a franchise that quite rarely receives a worldwide localization, but the series has seen a western resurgence lately with the release of Metal Max Xeno and its most recent updated release, Metal Max Xeno Reborn.
With the hype around this title slowly blowing, we wanted to share an interview with Metal Max Xeno’s director Tomono Yusuke to speak on the gameplay systems and the battle-dog Pochi.
How did you come to develop METAL MAX Xeno Reborn?
TY: My first exposure to Metal Max was the first game on the NES, I played it when I was 11 years old. As I recall, I borrowed it from a friend of mine. I’d played many NES RPGs, but Metal Max was one that really caught my attention even back then. I liked how it had unique features compared to its peers, like how you could get in a tank and bulldoze enemies that had been giving you trouble on foot. I like how defeating specific “Wanted” monsters in your tank netted you massive rewards, too. I remember feeling incredibly free as I played the game, being totally blown away by the scope of what you could do. I think, at least to me, Metal Max was a game that totally broadened the scope of freedom and fun that RPGs could bring people.
Eventually, I came to join the staff on Metal Max 3, which was a revival for the series after a nearly 20-year hiatus of numbered entries. From there I went to work on game design, plot planning, and direction for the series. I briefly parted ways with the series, but came back in time to take over the direction of the original METAL MAX Xeno midway through production. I saw the game to completion, with most of my duties involving streamlining the story and tweaking the combat.
With Xeno, we concluded that we’d sort of brought the Metal Max series to its narrative and visual limits. It’s harder to make a charming and engaging game in full 3D, especially on a low budget. But with Reborn, this is a challenge we’ve risen to meet, and we’ve polished a lot of the rough edges that the original METAL MAX Xeno had. One challenge I kept in mind the entire way through was to restore the sense of freedom and fun that the original games had charmed me with all those years ago. The option to take on the final boss right from the start of the game, for example, is one such freedom I think should be embraced in RPGs. I think our finished result is a union, or at least a middle ground between the fascinating fun of classic RPGs, and the focus on realism and broader scope of features that’s so symbolic modern age gaming.
What makes Reborn different?
TY: A hallmark of the Metal Max series has always been a command-based system in which the player can control humans as well as tanks. The goal with this game was to have players experience the two forms of gameplay seamlessly by having the tank be a vehicle you could freely enter or exit, rather than have it be a case of something that happens between loading screens. We also wanted to rise to the challenge of other command-based RPGs that had seamlessly integrated their worlds and game systems. The battle system of Final Fantasy XII is a good example of that kind of integration, but even then, some players found it cumbersome.
I wanted to make a more intuitive combat system, as both a love letter and a path forwards for RPGs that use commands and prompts as part of their gameplay, because they’ve fallen out of vogue in recent years. I think that the seamless union of world and command-based combat is the most distinctive feature that Reborn has to offer. I hope our players get a lot of mileage out of it.
Tell us about the world of METAL MAX Xeno Reborn.
TY: The basic concept of “humanity has fallen, and the world is almost barren” is a common thread that has passed through just about every game in the series, so naturally, we went with the same concept here because why fix what isn’t broken? That concept is the embodiment of Metal Max. The maps are based on real-world locations, and another tradition of the series is designing monsters based on what you think would fit in the places they’ll appear, so we’ve put together a lot of exciting creatures for our players to skirmish with and hunt down.
During development, it was a bit of a hassle designing a battle system that would work with all the varied environments in the game. Some other difficulties came when designing the scale of the battles, it was no small feat to include giant monsters and combat with airborne monsters… but we did it, and hopefully to great effect!
Pochi! Tell us about Pochi!
TY: We wanted to include Pochi the dog in the original Xeno release, but ultimately had to cut the concept due to scheduling problems. We knew Reborn had a tight schedule from the offset, so we made it our mission to get Pochi in there at all costs.
This ended up leading to other considerations, like combat! In a modern gaming era with higher definition graphics, could we really bear to see a faithful canine companion get hurt on the battlefield? It was a serious point of consideration, and a true challenge to overcome. But I think this dog is the very soul of Metal Max, and man needs a best friend in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. I’m super happy we got Pochi into the game.
That desperate desire for canine companionship in line with the spirit of the series led us to our next work, Metal Dogs, as well. So long as we hold on to its spirit, the soul and history of Metal Max will live on forever!
In case you missed it, check out our review.
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